The EU's sustainable development strategy (SDS) was originally adopted at the European Council in Gothenburg in 2001 and complemented with an external dimension by the European Council in Barcelona.
However, a mid-term review showed that several unsustainable trends remain especially in the areas of climate change, public health, poverty and exclusion, demographic pressure and ageing, management of natural resources and transport.
The Commission presented in December 2005 a Communication reviewing the SDS, on the basis of which the Austrian EU Presidency prepared a compromise text for adoption by the EU leaders during their summit on 15-16 June 2006. Issues: One of the main issues of the EU's sustainable development strategy is its relationship with the Lisbon agenda for growth and jobs. By the defenders of the EU's competitiveness agenda, sustainable development is regularly reduced to the third environmental dimension of the Lisbon agenda (next to economic growth and social inclusion), the implicit premisse being that the first requirement is economic growth if the EU wants to tackle environmental and social protection.
The compromise text adopted by the EU heads of state and government on 16 June starts from the need for synergies between the SDS and the Lisbon agenda but remains ambiguous in its formulation. It defines the SDS as the "overarching objective" and sees the Lisbon strategy as the "motor of a more dynamic economy". The renewed sustainable development strategy also underlines the need for better regulation and full integration of SDS in all policies.
The new SDS identifies seven key challenges with corresponding targets and actions (most of which are repetitions of targets already defined in other policy papers):
climate change and clean energy
sustainable consumption and production
conservation and management of natural resources
public health social inclusion, demography and migration
global poverty and global sustainable development challenges
Education and training
as well as more research and development are seen as prerequisites to behavioural changes and better knowledge for more sustainable production and consumption patterns.
Member States are asked to consider shifting taxation from labour to resource and energy consumption. By 2008, the Commission is also expected to present a "roadmap for reform, sector by sector, of subsidies that have considerable negative effects on the environment and are incompatible with sustainable development, with a view to gradually eliminating them".
Information and communication actions as well as campaigns to mobilise business and other civil society groups' support will be set up and starting from September 2007, the Commission will present every two years a progress report on the implementation of the SDS.
The December European Council will also every two years review this progress. Peer reviews and improved or new national SDS plans are expected to improve the SDS policies and practices in the Member States.
The European Environmental Bureau (EEB) called the revised SDS "an acceptable starting point". It hailed the Austrian Presidency's success in making "this Strategy more ambitious and substantive" and welcomed that the EU leaders value "environmental protection as an essential element of a successful EU, not as a burden".
But John Hontelez, Secretary-General of the EEB also regretted that the SDS has "few specific longer-term targets and schedules" and that it failed to "commit itself to a coordinated initiative for environmental tax reform and ambitious but essential targets and policies for improvements in the efficient use of resources".
Posted on 26th June 2006
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